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Report On Business Southern Ontario airport capacity to be challenged by surging passenger traffic: report

Toronto Pearson Airport is pictured in an aerial image from 2013.

Michael Mahovlich/GTAA

Airline passenger traffic in Southern Ontario is expected to more than double by the 2040s, exceeding the combined capacity of all the airports in the region to handle it, says a white paper done for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA).

More than 42 million passengers travelled through airports from Windsor to Kingston, last year – 38.6 million through Pearson International in Toronto – but by 2043, traffic will rise to about 90 million airline passengers at airports that have capacity to serve about 70 million people.

That means a system of regional co-ordination among airports needs to be established so they function as an integrated group rather than a collection of individual facilities, says the report, scheduled to be released Thursday at the CityAge conference in Toronto.

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"The key difference in this scenario is that each airport takes on a particular role – an air travel division of labour – so that the overall air travel capacity is optimized to best meet the range of demands," the report says. "Air travel capacity in Southern Ontario and, as importantly, the associated ground transportation connections, will not meet future demand unless there is immediate, pro-active and co-ordinated planning."

The projected growth in passengers through Pearson, the country's largest airport, and airports in such cities as Hamilton, Waterloo and Oshawa comes from an increase in travel and a forecast for strong growth in population.

Airports and transportation officials need to begin planning now to establish a co-ordinated system and the transit system to support it, the report added.

"In the world of planning a large infrastructure like an airport, 20 years is the blink of an eye," said Eileen Waechter, the GTAA's director of airport planning.

The demand at Pearson, where travel was up 7 per cent last year, an increase higher than at John F. Kennedy in New York, Heathrow in London and Dubai International among others, is strong enough that the GTAA is ready to discuss expanding Terminal 1.

That's the main hub of Air Canada, the country's largest carrier and one that is pinning much of its growth strategy on an increase in international traffic.

Pearson's role as the airport that deals mainly with international traffic will remain, but the airport system in Southern Ontario could end up being similar to that of New York, where JFK is the international hub, LaGuardia handles short- and medium-term flights, Newark, N.J., is a key centre for low-cost carriers and Teterboro, N.J., is the business and executive airport.

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Southern Ontario is already evolving to a similar system on its own, the report noted. Billy Bishop Airport on Toronto Islands picks up a chunk of short- and medium-haul traffic, Hamilton is developing cargo and courier traffic, and Oshawa Municipal Airport focuses on private executive travel.

"There may be other places where we would like business aviation growth or flying schools or maintenance," Ms. Waechter said. "Those are the kinds of questions we're going to be working through with the other airports."

Pearson projected in 2008 that it would need to add a sixth runway, but it appears that may not be necessary for at least another two decades, she said, because airlines are using larger planes and have increased the number of seats they have on all sizes of planes.

Boeing 747-400 aircraft, one of the types of plane operated by Air Canada between 1990 and 2003, contained 421 seats. The newer Boeing 777 used on international flights such as Vancouver to Hong Kong can carry as many as 458 passengers.

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